The Billings Outpost

Nye, Fishtail students learn from top artists

Students and artist Stephen Talasnik clown around after learning about “Pioneer,” his new art installation. Photo by Taylor Leigh Fraser

On an overcast afternoon in early October, a dozen rural school students, ages 6 through 12, scrambled out of vans at Tippet Rise for a workshop with internationally celebrated contemporary artist Stephen Talasnik - whose latest installation, “Pioneer,” was being constructed in the rolling hills of the Stillwater River valley between Absarokee and Fishtail.

“Where are the walls?” shouted an exuberant 6-year-old from Fishtail as he pointed to dozens of 30-foot cedar poles planted into the ground at precarious angles. “There aren’t any walls,” whispered a classmate, “that is the whole sculpture.”

Thus began a comprehensive lesson in contemporary art that combined math, history, science, engineering and the importance of imagination.

Talasnik started by describing to a rapt audience his fascination for the early years of the space program which recently inspired him to build a series of sculptures called Satellite. Pioneer at Tippet Rise is the first opus of the series and is named for the 1960s Pioneer space-probe project. Talasnik said he wanted to create a relationship between spirit and exploration and asked the students “what better way to depict exploration than with a satellite?” 

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 November 2015 12:50

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Writer reflects on Northern Cheyenne childhood

By ADRIAN JAWORT - For The Outpost

“You know how much money came out of the Butte copper mines?” Shann Ray Ferch asked. “It’s 300 billion dollars! I can’t even imagine it because it’s so much.”

Such is the background of Ferch’s much heralded first work of historical fiction, “American Copper,” released this month. The Montana native, who writes under the pen name Shann Ray, launched his book at a release party last week in Spokane with Sherman Alexie as the keynote speaker.

The book is set in Butte, heralded as “The Richest Hill on Earth,” in the early years of the 20th century, against a backdrop of powerful greed and corruption. It tells the story of Evelynne Lowry, the daughter of a copper baron, and her relationship with two men, a rough-and-tumble steer wrestler from the Hi-Line named Zion and a Cheyenne team roper named William Black Kettle.

Ferch’s 2011 collection of short stories, “American Masculine,” won two High Plains Book Awards and an American Book Award as well. His collection of poems, “Balefire,” won the 2015 High Plains Book Award for poetry.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 November 2015 19:58

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MSUB named ‘military friendly’

From MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Montana State University and MSU Billings have been named among the nation’s military friendly universities by the website for its 2016 compilation of schools that support student veterans.

“We are happy to have recognition from the Military Friendly schools website because MSU is truly a university that works to make veterans feel at home and supported,” said Brenda York, director of MSU’s Office of Disability, Re-entry and Veteran Services. “Student veterans are an important part of our campus, and we’re working hard to help them succeed.” gathers survey information on schools across the nation, with survey responses scored against benchmarks for retention and graduation of veterans, with results independently tested, according to the site’s press materials.

“We live in an era when the value of military service in the professional world is unquestioned and unmatched,” said Chris Hale, a Navy veteran and chairman and co-founder of Victory Media, which runs the site. “Veterans are graduates of the premier training institution in the world, but they need a consistent and predictable standard that lets them make good choices for major life decisions like where to work or where to enroll in school. The mission of Military Friendly is to create maximum professional opportunity for them and other members of the military community.”

This year nearly 400,000 active duty, National Guard and Armed Forces Reserve service members will transition their skills to campuses and companies nationwide. Military Friendly ratings, lists and program information are available at Post-secondary schools and employers may learn more  and request a free survey link at

At MSU, some 4 percent of the student body is made up of those with military service records. At MSU Billings, that number sits at 5 percent.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 November 2015 21:27

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Survey finds depressed teens

The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows more Montana teens are reporting signs of serious mental health challenges, including depression and thoughts of suicide.

The Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey is conducted every two years. The survey is a collaboration between the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the Centers for Disease Control. Students volunteer to answer questions about things like drug use, sex, nutrition and mental health.

In the 2015 survey, 29.3 percent of Montana teens surveyed said they had ongoing feelings of sadness or hopelessness. That’s up from 26.5 percent in 2013. When asked if they had seriously considered attempting suicide, 18.8 percent of teens surveyed said yes. That’s up from 16.8 percent in 2013.

“It’s critical that Montana students are offered the tools and skills necessary to cope with all health concerns, particularly mental health needs,” Superintendent Denise Juneau said.

 “It’s my hope that updating Montana’s health enhancement content standards will strengthen how educators can address the needs of the whole student.”

Montana’s health enhancement content standards haven’t been updated since 1999. New health enhancement content standards that will be reviewed this week by a negotiated rulemaking committee will modernize standards and place a stronger emphasis on social-emotional health. The updated standards, if adopted by the Board of Public Education, will focus on things like coping and refusal skills, and the long-term health impacts of nutrition, drug use, and physical activity.

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 November 2015 21:26

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Rocky grads cite benefits of English major

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

The idea of majoring in English is one that has often caused consternation for some college students. After all, what jobs can you pursue with an English degree?

According to the alumni and faculty who spoke at Rocky Mountain College’s “Why Study English?” event on Oct. 20, more careers are available to English majors than you might think.

“The list of what you can’t do with an English major is much shorter than the list of what you can do,”  Academic Vice President Steve Germic said near the end of the hour-long event.

Indeed, the diverse array of RMC English graduates who spoke at the event seemed to prove Germic’s point. They included Dan Johnson (class of 2011), who works as an English teacher at Laurel Middle School; Mary Ann Bradley (class of 2008), who works as an English teacher at the Career Center in Billings; Erica Wall (class of 2012), who works as an Institutional Research Analyst for RMC; and Alexandra Emerson (class of 2014), who works in a management position at Enterprise Rental Car.

Both Johnson and Bradley said that they had no problem securing jobs in the English education field. In fact, there are more jobs than ever before – especially in rural areas.

“Eighty percent of our students in Montana live in rural communities and those communities are always looking for teachers,” Johnson said. “Teaching opportunities are widely and readily available – particularly if you want to stay in Montana.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 22:31

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Student debt program draws national focus

MSU News Services

BOZEMAN – Montana State University received national attention on Bloomberg Business News last week for a program that has reduced student debt through an incentivized financial educational program for students who have student loans.

Brendan Greeley, co-anchor of Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg Surveillance” and senior correspondent at Bloomberg News, highlighted the MSU Know Your Debt program to make students more aware of their debt load and what they need to do to keep expenses under control. His 4:30 minute segment on the MSU program aired nationally on the Bloomberg Markets segment.

“What is amazing about this study is if you just give (students) a little bit of information, they are going to make that change the next semester,” Greeley said.

Greeley detailed the three-step MSU Know Your Debt program, started by the MSU Office of Financial Education, which is based in the Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success. He said the office sends a letter to every MSU student that has taken out a student loan. The letter notifies students of the amount of their current student loan debt, notifies them that in order to receive more loans, they will have to pass 67 percent of their classes. Students who take the letter to a university financial counselor receive $20. The letter also tells students that at MSU, any credit load above 12 credits are free.

Greeley also noted research by MSU economics professors - Christiana Stoddard and Carly Urban of MSU as well as Maximilian Schmeiser, an economist with the Federal Reserve Board - found that students receiving KYD letters reduced their debt loads in the subsequent semester by about a third (or $1,360), took more credits, and had higher GPAs in the subsequent semester.

In addition, the study found students in the program migrated to science, technology, engineering and math, which are STEM majors.

“They are starting to think about what their education is going to be worth later on in life,” Greeley said.

Stoddard said she was pleased that Bloomberg was positive about the research paper, “Does Salient Financial Information Affect Academic Performance and Borrowing Behavior among College Students?” She said she and Urban plan to present the data soon to the Montana University System Board of Regents.

Chris Kearns, MSU’s vice president for student success, said his office was pleased with the positive reaction to the program by some of the country’s best financial journalists.

“All the credit for the KYD campaign and for working with the faculty members researching the outcomes goes to Carina Beck and her colleagues in the Office for Financial Education,” said Kearns, who oversees the office. “It is really a remarkable set of findings by the faculty researching remarkable work by the staff. It is also remarkable that our students are positively impacting their lives through this practical program.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 October 2015 22:13

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Enrollment down at MSUB

MSU Billings News Services

Montana State University Billings has commenced the 2015-16 academic year with 4,429 students. At its official 15th class-day count, City College enrolled 1,275 students while the university campus had 3,154 students enrolled. 

A year-to-year comparison shows the total number of two-year degree seekers at City College remained relatively unchanged. However, the university campus, home to MSU Billings four-year and graduate degrees, was down nearly 10 percent.

A closer look at the students enrolled this autumn shows a significant decrease in first-time freshmen. The 674 students that make up this year’s first-time freshman cohort is down nearly 12 percent when compared to the previous year.

“We as a system have understood for several years that we are operating in an environment where high school numbers are declining,” commented Chancellor Mark Nook.  “We understand this decrease isn’t going to remedy itself in the short-term, which makes it imperative that we focus on retaining every student possible and ensuring they meet their educational and professional goals.”

MSU Billings has shown the value in its degree offerings—during the past four-years an average of 1,000 students earned a diploma. During that span, alumni data shows that graduates from MSUB stay in Montana and contribute to the state’s economy and the betterment of its communities.  According to surveyed alumni, roughly 80 percent of four-year degree seekers and over 85 percent of two-year degree seekers stay in Montana.  

Contributing to the record graduating classes is the value transfer students see in MSU Billings programs and the business community. The university started fall classes with 434 new transfer students, up nearly 3 percent when compared to last year. 

“Transfer students have certainly shown an affinity for MSU Billings,” commented Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Joe Oravecz. “Opportunities for internships and real-world experience, while attaining a degree, are extremely attractive attributes that you simply can’t find at many other institutions.”

In fall 2014 Chancellor Nook formed a 14 member Student Success Committee, chaired by Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Matt Redinger.

The committee was asked to review and assess a broad range of student-centered programs nationally demonstrated to be best practices for assuring that students are able to meet their goals. 

“It was readily apparent that we have a retention and persistence issue with our students,” said Redinger. “What was born out of this nearly year-long review was an outline to help our students persist from year-to-year and ultimately attain a degree.”

The committee made recommendations during a university-wide meeting.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 October 2015 20:21

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Teacher of Year named; Billings teacher is finalist

“I don’t even know how to feel, I’m so excited,” said Deer Lodge science teacher Jessica Anderson when she learned she had been chosen as the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year.

Anderson got the news from 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year Craig Beals, who called her on behalf of the Teacher of the Year selection committee. “She’s so deserving, so great,” Beals said about Anderson. “She’s got energy like I’ve never seen. All of this year’s finalists are amazing.”

Each year, the Montana Teacher of the Year program recognizes a teacher who exemplifies the best in the teaching profession. It is the highest honor a Montana teacher can receive. The program is sponsored and administered by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, based in Helena.

Teachers nominated to be Montana Teacher of the Year go through an exhaustive application process. Three finalists are chosen for interviews. This year’s selection committee included representatives from the Office of Public Instruction, School Administrators of Montana, four educators, a parent, and a high school student.

This year’s other two finalists are Shelly Stanton, technology integration and business teacher in the Billings schools, and Derek Strahn, social studies teacher at Bozeman High School.

As the 2016 Montana Teacher of the Year, Anderson will serve as an ambassador for public education, represent Montana in the National Teacher of the Year program, and attend several national events along with the other state teachers of the year.

Anderson teaches earth science, chemistry, and physics at Powell County High School in Deer Lodge. She also teaches oceanography online through the Montana Digital Academy.

Anderson says it was her grandmother who inspired her to become a teacher. Her grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse on the North Dakota plains. At first glance, their teaching careers appear to have little in common. Her grandmother not only taught kids in multiple grades, “she cleaned the school, tended to the wood stove, and washed down the outhouse,” Anderson says. “She took on these responsibilities without any formal training, just a passion for students and their learning.”

Anderson, on the other hand, teaches in a high-tech world and harnesses digital tools to personalize learning for her students. She has multiple degrees, including postgraduate studies in science, a master’s in science education, and a bachelor’s in elementary education.

Today, Anderson uses a teaching technique she calls “blended learning” – using technology in innovative ways that allow students to “choose their own path, their own pace, sometimes even their own location. No matter how learners do it, the goal is to demonstrate mastery of content that is meaningful to them.”

In studying plate tectonics, for example, one student chose to create a picture collage of plate movement, while another made a video explaining plate tectonics and posted it to YouTube.

Anderson also uses elements of computer games in her teaching, adding them into traditional learning situations and “making it into a game.” Students get to earn “experience points” and move to different “levels.” “They love it,” she says.

These tools allow Anderson to “engage with every student every day, continually questioning their thinking and helping them self-manage their learning,” she says.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 20:30

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City has long hockey history

By BILL CALLAHAN - The Billings Outpost

It will be cold before you know it. Cold weather means hockey. In Billings, Hockey means the Billings Bulls. The Bulls are getting set to begin their 23rd season of hockey.

Billings has a long history of junior and minor pro hockey experience. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Billings’ hockey began with the Blazers. The Blazers operated for two seasons, 1974-75 and 1975-76. They played in the Southwest Hockey League.

The problem with this league was travel. The league had a team in Butte for the first season as well as a team in North Dakota, but the majority of travel was to New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. The league folded toward the end of the ’75-’76 season.

Billings took a year off from hockey but came back strong in 1977 with the Billings Bighorns. The Bighorns operated at the very top level of junior hockey. The Western Hockey League is and was a Canadian-based operation.

The Bighorns were successful. A number of players went on the play in the National Hockey League, including Gord Kluzak, Murray Brumwell, Andy Moog and Don Nachbauer.

The Bighorns left town at the end of the 1981-82 season. They went back to Canada and played in Naniamo, B.C.

Hockey took a year off and then the Montana Magic arrived. They played in the Central Hockey League. This was AA pro hockey. The team did not click with Billings fans and left at the end of the 1983-84 season.

There was one more season of pro hockey for the Magic City. In 1985-86 the Billings Marlboros played a short season in the Centennial Hockey League before they folded.

It would be another four years before Billings found a team on the junior level. The 1993-94 season brought the Billings Bulls to town. This weekend the Bulls will begin their 23rd season. During their 22 years the Bulls have played in different leagues:

• American Frontier

• America West

• North American.

• Norpac.

• NA3

The Bulls regular season gets under way on Friday, Sept. 25, at Centennial Arena on Bench Boulevard. I look forward to seeing you around the rink.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 20:25

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High school realignments show changing state

By T.J. GILLES - For The Outpost

High-school football season, like smoke from a not-so-distant wildfire, once again has descended upon Montana.

Observing the realignments and reclassifications of Montana High School Association members provides a learning moment for students of the sociology, economics and history of the ever-changing state.

Perhaps the most notable changes this year are the demotions of Anaconda and Plentywood. Anaconda, formerly in with the biggest schools in Class AA and most recently in Class A, was moved down to B. The Copperheads still get to field 11-man teams, but not so Plentywood, which went from B down to Class C, where they will play eight men at a time.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. About 120 years ago, Anaconda was in the running to be capital of the then-newest state when Copper King Marcus Daly attempted to bribe the Legislature. He got caught and Helena remained the seat of state government.

The world’s tallest all-masonry smokestack remains dormant, smokeless and silent, overseeing the former Superfund slag heaps of smelter offal, which now is a sculpted Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, Old Works.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 September 2015 19:34

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